Mike Keesman: "Observing the mind instead of acting on it: How mindfulness empowers people to live healthily"

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Mike Keesman: "Observing the mind instead of acting on it: How mindfulness empowers people to live healthily"

On March 16, 2018 Mike Keesman successfully defended the PhD thesis entitled "Observing the mind instead of acting on it: How mindfulness empowers people to live healthily" at Utrecht University.


Prof.dr. Henk Aarts
Prof.dr. Michael Häfner
dr. Esther K. Papies


While much research suggests that mindfulness reduces cravings and other reactivity to energy-dense products, less is known about how mindfulness exactly works. In this dissertation, I took two steps to examine how mindfulness might operate on appetitive reactivity. First, I focused on the role of the mind in inducing appetitive reactivity, such as salivation and cravings; and second, I scrutinized the active component of mindfulness that can bring about changes in appetitive reactivity. If we can reduce reactivity to energy-dense products, this might offer people a window of opportunity to act in line with their conscious reflections and intentions, such as that of eating healthily.
Overall, the research conducted and reviewed for this dissertation suggests that simulations and mental imagery play a key role in inducing appetitive reactivity. In one of the experiments, we for instance found that imagining the consumption of an energy-dense snack increased salivation. The research conducted and reviewed for this dissertation further suggests that the decentering component of mindfulness, i.e. the meta-cognitive insight that all experiences are impermanent, is key in making simulations and imagery less compelling. Decentering thereby reduces the extent to which simulations and imagery induce reactivity such as salivation and cravings to consume. This decentering can be taught to meditation-naïve people within 3 to 15 minutes, and people can then engage in decentering towards novel stimuli. By providing an account of how decentering works to reduce appetitive reactivity, and by providing a brief decentering training, the current dissertation makes this active component of mindfulness accessible to researchers, and to psychologists who wish to complement existing lifestyle interventions with decentering. In sum, the research of this dissertation highlights the working mechanism and potential application of decentering as a mind-tool to empower people to live healthily in a world full of temptations.

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March 16, 2018
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